They say a week is a long time in politics. Well a year feels like an age. It’s hard to believe that only last summer many of us students were proudly casting our votes in favour of Nick Clegg and his men in yellow. Clegg, the most popular British politician since Winston Churchill, could do no wrong. You remember the days: Cleggmania, no more broken promises and ‘I agree with Nick’.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Lib Dems now stand as national objects of derision, flailing at 9% in the polls and accused of propping up a Tory-led government. But is the criticism justified? Were we wrong to vote for them? And is Britain worse off with the Liberal Democrats in government?
The answers are simple: no, no and no. Whilst the red mist of tuition fee rage might cloud the judgements of other students, I will proudly say that I will vote Liberal Democrats again. The events of the last fourteen months show that there are compelling reasons to do so.
Firstly, coalition politics is good for Britain. Whereas in the past we saw majority governments merrily ramming legislative programmes through Parliament, we now see negotiation and compromise between coalition partners. This is healthy for democracy and it’s how politics should work. So I’ll be voting for the Lib Dems because I never want the Tories or Labour running riot alone again.
Secondly, the Lib Dems have proven themselves to be a significant force in government. Without wanting to sound like a Lib Dem spokesman, 880,000 low earners are no longer paying tax, the result of a Lib Dem policy. By the end of the Parliament that number will be 3 million.
In government they’ve also played an instrumental role in clamping down on tax evasion, linking pensions with earnings and scrapping Labour’s ridiculous ID card scheme. For anyone remotely concerned with social justice, these are all good things.
Another reason why I’ll be voting for the Liberal Democrats again is because I want people like Vince Cable in the Cabinet. When it comes to tackling today’s crisis of capitalism it’s old hands like Vince that we need at the heart of the government machine. To think that we could one day have Ed Balls running the economy is enough to induce a shudder. So please, Nick, if we get a coalition in 2015, make it a requirement of the Coalition Agreement that we get Vince as Chancellor.
But of course we must address the elephant in the room: tuition fees. People say they won’t vote Liberal Democrat again because Clegg’s party has made higher education unaffordable and they’ve ‘sold-out’. I’ll deal with these accusations one-by-one.
‘Higher education is now unaffordable.’ That’s simply wrong. Let’s repeat the basics. Students will pay less per week to pay off their loan than they would have under the old system. You only start paying back your loan when you are earning over £21,000 a year. If you’re earning £25,000 a year your weekly repayment will be £6.92. Only £6.92! It’s just disingenuous to say that students will not be able to afford university.
Now the second accusation: ‘The Lib Dems sold-out.’ True, but so what? Tony Blair said in April 1997 that ‘we have no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.’ His Labour government then brought in tuition fees in 2004. Promise broken.
And David Cameron wrote in the Conservative manifesto in 2005 that ‘we will restore real choice in higher education by scrapping fees.’ Again, promise broken.
So to throw your hands up in moral indignation and call the Lib Dems spineless sell-outs for agreeing to put up tuition fees is to take a very narrow view of recent history. Politicians break manifesto promises. It happens. Get over it.
In fact, the Liberal Democrat handling of the tuition fees saga sums up pretty nicely why I will vote for them again. They’ve finally proven themselves to be a party capable of government.
Whereas previously they were happy to play pie-in-the-sky politics on the sidelines, they’ve now shown a willingness to take tough decisions in the national interest, such as on tuition fees and deficit reduction.
But most importantly they’ve made coalition politics work at a crucial time of global turmoil. I applaud that. In other words, the Liberal Democrats have grown up. It’s time their critics did too.
NO by Ellie Ross
After a lifetime’s support of the Labour Party I decided to join the fickle ranks of university students elsewhere, and vote for the Liberal Democrats. This has left me not only with the sour taste of disappointment on my political palette, but also one of embarrassment too. I feel like a child whose parents have given them a cardboard box wrapped up in glittery paper, stick on bows and velvet ribbons, only to discover the bows were only semi-adhesive, the cat ate the ribbon and died, and the box, well, the box remained a box.
At dinner parties, if the conversation turns to the matter of who we previously voted for, I usually choose that moment to slink to the toilet and weep to myself, or to mutter Lib Dem and hastily down my after-dinner liqueur. I am disappointed that I allowed myself to be deceived by the Lib Dems, who had seemed to promise something a little different from the main two parties.
Thanks to my history degree and a brief scan of the Tory party manifesto, I was aware that in similar times of economic panic they would most likely embark on a rampage of wild cutbacks and insolent decisions regarding the NHS and possibly miners (although this might have only been relevant to the 1980s). I also struggled and still struggle to comprehend why anybody at university (in most respects a progressive and thoughtful place) would vote Conservative when there was so much to change and fight for. The Conservatives were a party I felt, that would perhaps appeal to me when I had made my millions and was reclining in the Cotswolds smoking a pipe. They were fine for my grandparents and my parents, but the Conservatives were the last party on earth that would help me to make those millions or actually get a job at all. So they were out.
Labour. This was the big decision. I had first decided that I was an ardent Labour supporter when I was six years old and realised that the word Labour looked slightly like Labrador and I was a huge dog fan. None of the other parties could offer me, at that time, an option to sound vaguely canine. So I was in. Unfortunately, since the tender age of six, my support for the Labour Party has reduced annually, right up to 2009, when, despite my Labour Party Membership, I knew that I couldn’t go through the hell of having voted for the party in power again.
‘War, you were responsible for war!’ and ‘You brought us into this economic crisis’ were two accusations I had to swat away if I ever dared to admit my fondness for the Milliband clan.
Being told that I was directly responsible for sending thousands of soldiers to Iraq and wreaking havoc on innocent civilians had whetted my appetite for a party that was so middle of the road that it would surely just spend most of its time handing out free lollipops and reminding us who they were.
The Lib Dems deserved a shot at the top-after all, David Lloyd George, leading a coalition consisting of his own party, the Conservatives and Labour had brought the Great War to an end in 1918. Perhaps Nick Clegg would do the same. It’s fair to say that the Lib Dems certainly made a lot of promises, which all sounded very impressive. The only difference this time to the previous times that he had made lots of empty promises was that the media decided to place him on equal footing with the other two parties in a series of televised debates, and suddenly, Britain remembered that there was a third party.
Nick Clegg and his party promised four key pledges: ‘Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket. A fair chance for every child. A fair future, creating jobs by making Britain greener. A fair deal for you, from politicians.’
Even now, despite having come to terms with my gross mistake, I wonder how I was deceived by somebody who apparently felt that a ‘fair future’ was all to do with ‘making Britain greener.’ In my mind, ‘a fair future’ champions exceptional human rights, an equal stab at getting jobs and absolutely nothing at all about wind-farms. But we were all so caught up in the moment I probably just ‘whooped’ along with the rest of Britain.
In 2009, the Lib Dems promised to crackdown on tax evasion and ensure that the mega wealthy can’t avoid stamp duty by putting their properties in an offshore trust. Holding hands with David Cameron however, the Lib Dems have quietly dropped the more meaningful aspect of their manifesto, and have reworded it like this: ‘We will tackle tax avoidance’.
And this years earlier referendum on ‘Alternative Vote vs. the Single Transferable Vote (STV)’? Well here’s the belter. In the Lib Dem’s original manifesto, they favoured the STV and it was only under the coalition that they were persuaded by the Conservatives as part of ‘a miserable little compromise’ (Clegg) to promote AV.
And I won’t even go there with the tuition fees. Let’s just agree that what was a key election promise and the reason why thousands of students voted for the Lib Dems was broken almost immediately after coming to power. So desperate was Clegg for power that he joined with a party that he had previously accused of having ‘no progressive reform agenda’ and ‘an unbearable sense of entitlement’ (May 2010). In the same month during an interview with New Statesman he divulged: ‘anyone with a progressive frame of mind should vote for the Conservatives or for the Lib Dems’.
The Lib Dems have shown us that it’s ok to lie, and have also probably managed to create intense disillusionment for a whole number of first time voters. Will these people vote again, or have they now become so disenchanted with the whole political system that some will begin to focus their attention on fringe parties with more extreme policies?
Anybody with that level of fickleness is not worth mine or anybody else’s support and is why I will never vote for the Lib Dems again.